Last night I received a call from a colleague and friend who said, “Teaching music… it’s just not worth it!”
This is not the first time I have heard these words and will most assuredly not be the last either.
Frankly, I have heard them far to often from people who I KNOW belong in a classroom, working with kids, and changing lives, but are struggling with the day to day reality of this profession.
It's hard to know what to say in these circumstances. To be honest, having left the classroom after 16 years I feel somewhat disingenuous doling out ANY advice on this subject whatsoever. After all, these are REAL people with REAL feelings and REAL lives at stake.
When confronted with moments such as these, I try to do more listening than talking. Whether out of respect for them, or lack of knowing what to say, it has been my experience that people in need are not really searching for answers so much as an opportunity to unload some of their burdens.
After our somewhat lengthy conversation, I wished my friend well, told him to get some rest and hung up the phone. I rattled around the house in the dark for a bit longer, wondering if I had said or done the right things. How do you respond to someone who tells you that his life's work is no longer worth it? What do you say to make him understand that he matters and is making a difference?
Wanting closure but needing sleep, I turned off the lights and crawled into bed.
People like him need answers. They need affirmation. They need proof that their struggle is real, but that it is worthwhile.
I awoke the next morning and went in search of proof and proof is what I found. As proof positive that music matters:
- I give you Ashley, who confessed to me having issues with eating disorders and personal self esteem but then said, “Music is the one class that always allows me to be expressive. It is the one class that has never failed to make me proud of myself."
- I give you Elizabeth, who said, “When my father died unexpectedly, my band family was there for me. They supported me unconditionally and gave me a place to both grieve and celebrate his life.”
- I give you Andy, who said, “I have been dealing with depression since middle school, and orchestra is the class the fuels me to deal with the rest of my day."
- I give you Mattie, who said, “Before I joined band, my grades were awful and there was no way I was going to college, now I am headed to a four year university with a scholarship."
- I give you Matthew, a band director, who during “Senior Night” he walked three of his band members down the fifty yard line because he was their father figure.
- I give you the hundreds of people and programs who offered to adopt a band program in Houston and the Florida coast when they are barely able to sustain their own music program.
- I give you the 800+ applicants to the Be Our Guest at Midwest program, who wanted nothing more than to spend a portion of their holiday break on professional development.
We all want to believe that our effort are yielding some gain. We want to see evidence that what we do matters, but most of life’s most important qualities: faith, love and integrity are often without evidentiary proof. We have to know them in our hearts, and see them in our mind’s eye, as tangible and tactile evidence although it is not always readily apparent.
As you wade through your competitive season, ratings, accolades, and awards are evidence of teaching and learning but not necessarily of impact. Music (and you) are so more than rubrics, numbers, and trophies.
I often tell my workshop participants, “If you know what you are looking for, than you know what you are looking at.” And I know what I am looking for, so I know what I am looking at, proof positive that YOU make a difference!
Have a great week!
p.s. Thanks to everyone who sent me selfies last week as a part of my "connection challenge." If the line at your local Starbuck's a was a little longer than usual, please accept my apologies.